The Unhealthy Liturgical Obsession with Self

N OBSESSION with self-affirmation can lead to problems in everyday life. Those who do not need it, even in the face of adversity and criticism, tend to be happiest. (This is no easy thing and requires a lifetime of struggle.) Those who are in service to others tend to also be happiest.

But those who require self-affirmation, especially immediate attention, are at risk of covering up real emotions. They are at risk of masking pain from unaddressed problems, which can lead to a host of dire consequences.

Please note, none of this is a judgment. I struggle with these very same things as I am mindful of the myriad planks I should remove from my own eye. (I often joke that I write these articles because I am emotionally needy, and I seek affirmation from the Internet.)

If an obsession with self-affirmation is something contrary to personal happiness, then why does this crop up in the liturgy so often?

It is not found in the Roman Rite. It is not there in the scriptures. We are in fact inserting such self-obsession. The ubiquity of self-congratulatory lyrics and added sentiments (not in the Roman Missal) has normalized this mindset. No, we have not gathered to celebrate ourselves, but the Sacred Mysteries, which are eternally present, now and always. This is the sacramental reality of the Eucharist. This is worth celebrating with joy far beyond our limited human understanding.

Avoiding self-focus does not preclude building a welcoming parish. Reverent prayer and being inviting are not mutually exclusive in the least. In fact they go together beautifully. Placing Christ at the center is a dynamic agent of change in our hearts and therefore change in the world.

Furthermore, a need for self-affirmation is quite different than underscoring service to our fellow parishioners. The latter is vital to a successful parish and key to the concept of Lex Vivendi, which is the law of how we live our lives according to our prayer and our beliefs.

OUNTERINTUITIVE PERHAPS is that the more focused we are on God—and less on ourselves—the happier we may be. As such, the more a community makes Christ the center of their prayer, the stronger its bonds. This in turn helps a community be of greater service far beyond the four walls of the sacred worship space.

As a leader—as a choir director—one must never make the liturgy about oneself. Yes, we are entrusted with decisions, but it must be in the service of God and others—not an affirmation of self-worth as a musician.

INALLY, THE IMPORTANCE of hymnody with solid Roman Catholic theology cannot be overestimated. Better still, sing the propers whenever possible. Sing the Mass. In doing so, we are singing the scriptures. In doing so we put God at the center.

Then watch what happens deep within our soul.

Soli Deo gloria

The Power of Wordless Presence

passages have contained an interesting exhortation—one somewhat outwardly uncharacteristic of Jesus himself. Jesus tells a parable of the difficulty of passing through the narrow gate. When those knocking on the door, asking to be let in, not once, but twice, the master of house says, “I do not know where you are from…”

A few days later, the Gospel contains Jesus’ parable about the ten wise virgins. Again, they knock on the door asking to be let in. The bridegroom replies in nearly the same fashion, “…I do not know you…”

While each parable has a larger lesson—one of humility and the other of readiness—there is an beckoning to “know” the Lord.

Knowing another human being requires an investment of time and an investment of oneself. I suppose “knowing” God is quite similar. The masters in these stories are unlike Jesus in that we are told over and over in scripture that the Lord knows our every need and has known us before we were born. Psalm 139: “Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.”

This is the value of simply being in the presence of God or of one of his children. Our our pastoral roles, this is much harder work than dealing with the music alone!

Many of us are gearing up our choir programs at this time. There has likely been an enormous amount of planning that has taken place during the summer. We are getting into “recruitment mode.” There is no end to preparations and implementation.

Yet if we do not invest of ourselves time to “know” the Lord, our work may be for our own glorification rather than for God’s. (I write this as a reminder to myself.)

Each year, I am astounded to learn something new about a choir member or parishioner. These are people that I thought I knew well. It often involves a unique cross that individual is carrying. It changes my perspective, and hopefully more towards mindfulness of greater mercy. This only came about while being “present” to know the person.

Likewise, spending time with music—even over a period of years—allows that music to take hold in our hearts, and not just in our minds and voices. Such presence, such being, lends to service of others. This is the value of rehearsal.

Finally, my happiest times with my children are probably times in which I am simply present for them. I try to do this because my parents—and my father—took time to be simply present with me, especially at stages of difficulty.

No words were shared. Just presence. I remember these times, and I hope my children remember them too. Do this with others in our pastoral work, and the impact may be beyond something we will ever know.

If we know God, he knows us. Remember this, even if swamped with work and obligations. Remember the power of accompanying others in their struggles. Remember the power of wordless presence.

Communion Antiphons for Advent & Christmas • NEW • World Library Publications

ORLD LIBRARY Publications, the music and liturgy division of J. S. Paluch Company, Inc. has recently released my collection of Communion Antiphons for Christmas. These nine antiphons are set to the English translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, with verses according to the Graduale Romanum.

You may also learn about and listen to my Communion Antiphons for Advent here.

Scores are available in hard copies or for digital download:

Order • View sample pages:
Octavo • “Communion Antiphons for Christmas” (for SATB Choir, Cantor, Assembly, Organ, Trumpet)

“Click & Print” • PDF Download:
PDF • “Communion Antiphons for Christmas” (for SATB Choir, Cantor, Assembly, Organ, Trumpet)

All are chant based including quotes of Puer natus est nobis and the Mode I Ave Maria.
May be sung with cantor or unison schola or optional SATB
Several include optional vocal and trumpet descants.

BE SURE TO LISTEN to recordings directed by Paul French, Director of the William Ferris Chorale and Music Director of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Chicago. You can hear six of the nine antiphons here. (Each antiphon has several more verses than are recorded here.)

*Note the two options for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God: Rejoice, O Daughter Zion (Exsulta fiIia Sion) is prescribed for the Mass at Dawn in the Roman Missal. It is also is prescribed also for the Solemnity of Mary in the Graduale Romanum.

HY SING THE PROPERS AT ALL? Forget GIRM 87 that gives singing the antiphons from the Roman Missal or Grandulae Romanum the highest preference. Forget the tradition of the propers being integral to the Roman Rite for well over a millennium. Forget that Sing to the Lord: Music In Divine Worship (SttL) gives singing the antiphons and psalms very high priority.

But remember the wisdom of the faithful who came before us. What matters most is that the antiphons and psalms we sing during communion most always point us back to the Gospel. Often they are from the Gospel itself or another reading. The psalms, which are just as important as the antiphons, shed deeper light upon the sacred mysteries and the Gospel. These scriptures amplify our prayer while receiving the Bread of Life.

I could go on for many pages, but I leave you with this simple story:

The best note I ever received on this topic came from a woman who probably knows nothing about the antiphons, the GIRM, or the rubrics. But she knows prayer and she knows her heart. She said “Isn’t it wonderful to sing the Gospel while receiving the Eucharist!”

This kind of intuitive understanding is born of the wisdom of the ages—from many faithful who came before us. This above all is why we sing the Mass.

Consciously or not, the scriptures sung in the antiphons and psalms touch the heart. Live daily with the Word, and we will be transformed.

Soli Deo gloria

New Organ Work • Madonna & Child

HE CREATIVE process often takes time to evolve, always in surprising ways, and sometimes takes on a life of its own even after a premiere.

I was honored to be part of a wonderful concert with so many amazing musicians. It happened to be on Father’s Day. With that in mind, I just had to compose something for my two-month-old daughter. Composing variations on her name would have sufficed. But I could not shake the significant inclusion of variations on the Mode I Chant, Ave Maris Stella, which comprises much of the middle section of this work. Ave Maris Stella became its anchor—the grounding upon which the child’s theme could flourish.

The premiere was at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, Massachusetts on the 101-rank E. & G. G. Hook & Hastings Organ. At the premiere, the piece was titled for my daughter, “Variations on the Name Adeline Grace,. But so many after the concert asked me, “Wasn’t that Ave Maris Stella in there?” Yes, it was most assuredly there.

FTER A FEW DAYS, I have had a better understanding of what has transpired. It took me—the composer—to realize this is really a work about mother and child. There is the gentle cradling of the child in a mother’s lap. But there is also the heaviness in the child’s theme—a premonition of a Cross to bear. As Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 8:23)

Note the word Jesus uses: daily. This goes to our calling in life. We are all called to be a disciple of Jesus. It is the mother and father who nurture the child in the Faith, to be a true disciple of Jesus.

In the end, this work was perhaps equally inspired by my daughter and her extraordinary mother. What I did not initially understand, now makes sense as a musical portrait of Mary and Jesus. One can hear the heaviness, but also the lightness and comfort Jesus found in his own Mother, who is also our Mother. In both of them we find comfort. In Jesus we find salvation.

Recorded on the Smith & Gilbert Organ (1999) at Saint Cecilia Church, Boston, Massachusetts. Recording by Evan Landry Score available at RJC Cecilia Music.

Five Things Directors and Choirs Must Remember This Week

This article originally appeared on Corpus Christ Watershed’s, “Views from the Choir Loft” — published March 27, 2015.

ELCOME TO Holy Week. For many, preparations have been well underway and are still ongoing. But once the onslaught of liturgies begins, it’s a bit like the morning of a final exam: One can’t study or prepare anymore. Just be in the best mental and physical state possible. For us, that also includes spiritual.

So, why do we work so hard to prepare? Beyond the technical preparations, musical and liturgical, there are five essential things music directors should remind themselves, their choirs and instrumentalists:


There are those who walk through the doors of our churches who carry burdens unknown to us. Sorrow, struggle, and suffering permeates our fragile existence, but so does joy. There is great opportunity for comfort, compassion and love. In prayerful, loving song, you may forever change the lives of someone you do not know in a way you will never know.

Furthermore, for Elect and Candidates of the Church, the Easter Vigil is a night of life-changing importance. Your prayerful support, now, and during the period of mystagogy is critical.


While individuals may be experiencing different things in their personal lives, we are united in the Body of Christ. We are not only part of our local parish, but part of the Universal Church. This unity and universality is, in part, why our worship is ritualized. We are connected not only with our neighbors beside us, but with our brothers and sisters around the world. We are connected not only in the present day, but with the old Covenant with Abraham to the new Covenant mediated by Christ, so that we “may receive the promise of an eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15) in the future.

In part this unity is why our sacred music ideally conveys a sense of timelessness and universality. Christ yesterday and today… All time belongs to Him…

Likewise, in this unity, everyone in your choir is important—not just those with more beautiful voices. We’re all singing and praying together.


This is the Martha side of things. There is an overwhelming amount to do, but be mindful that all the tedious work and attention to detail is in service to the liturgy. It is in service to God and a great service to your sisters and brothers in the community.

But when the time comes, don’t worry about mistakes. Glitches will arise. Move on in prayer and don’t look back.


This is the Mary side of things. Being constantly busy is its own kind of addictive drug designed to distract us from pain and even sometimes from joy! (Being emotional is hard work.) At the end of your pre-liturgy warmup or rehearsal, be sure to leave the choir several minutes for quiet reflection and prayer. If desired, part of that time can also be used to look over a score of the first piece or two. Sing the incipit in your head. Then close the book.

Remember to allow room for the Spirit, for both musical and prayerful inspiration. Place yourself in the center of the music and revel in every moment of prayer that comes forth. In achieving this end, the value of stillness and silence cannot be underestimated.


Expressing gratitude should become a mindful habit. Choirs can never be thanked enough. Of all the ministries of your church or parish, those in the choir usually volunteer the greatest number of hours all year round. So, thank your choir now, and always.

Consider how lucky we are to have people in our lives not only to make music with, but to pray with. To do so at the same time is an extraordinary privilege. Don’t forget it, and never take it for granted.

So, get on your knees and thank God for the gift of music, through which we may sing His praises, comfort the distressed, and experience the boundless joy of God’s love.

And while you’re at it, thank your choir. Again.

Have a blessed Holy Week!

“Sounds from the Spires” with Jennifer Pascual • SiriusXM Radio

RECENTLY joined Dr. Jennifer Pascual, Director of Music for Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and host of Sounds from the Spires, at the SiriusXM Studio in Midtown Manhattan. Her weekly program can be heard on SIRIUSXM 129 Radio, The Catholic Channel.

My six-year-old son put me in my place before our interview. My daughter, who is eight, said, “Daddy is lucky because he is famous because he is being interviewed.” My son responded: “No, he’s not famous. Never, ever! Only God is famous.” This, coming from a boy who loves getting into mischief, especially if it gets a laugh from his siblings and disapproval from his parents. But here he was dead serious and spot on!

PODCAST Broadcast on 2.28.2016:

Don’t believe everything you hear on the radio. As my choirs well know, it is a requirement that they must read my mind during rehearsal; not everything that comes out of my mouth is reliable. As such, there are two corrections here: 1) “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” is from Psalm 27, not Psalm 122 as stated. 2) Our Lady of the Atonement R. C. Church is in San Antonio, Texas, not Houston. I knew that. I’ve always known that. But I said Houston. Please read my mind.


Communion Antiphons for Lent | SATB, Organ, Assembly • World Library Publications • Recordings Directed by Paul French

Variations on Misereris Omnium | Introit for Ash Wednesday • St Cecilia Schola • Variations played on the Smith & Gilbert Organ at St. Cecilia Church, Boston

By the Rivers of Babylon | Allesandra Cionco, soprano; Michael Dahlberg, cello; R. Clark, piano

Magna Opera Domini | Commissioned for the ordination of Bishop Steven Lopes. • Recording Directed by Edmund Murray

122 Messengers of Peace • Dona Nobis Pacem

T’S NEVER just about the music. Music is always about something greater. With sacred music it is about prayer, worship, and putting God at the center. Furthermore, singing in a choir brings about benefits that go well beyond that of making beautiful music. Words are fully inadequate to describe the power of music.

I had the opportunity to compose a work for the Elementary Honor Choir for the American Choral Directors Association Eastern Division. It was recently premiered at Boston’s historic Jordan Hall. Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, Director of The American Boychoir would be conducting. Understanding music education as he does, Malvar-Ruiz has often stated that the mission of the American Boychoir is not music. It is education. With this philosophy in mind, he asked me to compose something intriguing.

Dona Nobis Pacem | SSA, Piano, Cello • RJC Cecilia Music

While not a liturgical work, we agreed to a universal message Dona nobis pacem. “Grant us peace.” He wanted Latin to teach pure vowels. He wanted easily singable lyric phrases suitable for children’s voices. (He also understands that Gregorian Chant is great tool for teaching children.) Finally, he asked for quotes from St. Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. I jumped at this idea, knowing this would be about much more than music.

HIS HONOR CHOIR OF ONE-HUNDRED TWENTY-TWO CHILDREN (aged nine to twelve) had less than seventy-two hours to learn and memorize a program that included works of Bach, Malvar-Keylock, and others in a variety of styles and languages. Malvar-Ruiz asked me and composer Melissa Malvar-Keylock to discuss our compositions and answer questions from the children. And what brilliant questions they were!

Some asked about why I chose certain harmonies. One asked why the entire piece was not in Latin. Several questions were about the choice of the specific quotes. This opened up a great deal of historic discussion from St. Francis’ famous prayer to the direct connection between Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s use of nonviolent techniques to overcome oppression.

Many were so curious about the composition and creative process. One asked for advice I could offer about becoming a composer. My quick advice to this bright ten or eleven-year old was to not only develop the technical skills, but to develop the heart, mind, and soul. Who we are as a person gives birth to our music. What I wish I had added was this: Develop your own unique voice. Accept technical criticism, never let anyone dismiss or criticize your unique musical voice, because this is you. I really wish I said that. I hope she reads this.

HEN, AS IF one conclusion must lead to another, the final question was fascinating, especially from such from a young child: “What expectations do you have from us?” This is an incredibly mature and insightful thought. It was as if I had planted this question because it led to a question that I had for all the children.

I told them I had a question for them. I said I suspected they were already doing this, but I want them to consider my request. So then asked them, “What happens to the text at measure 132?” They explained the text changed from “Grant us peace” to “Peace be with you.” (The words Jesus spoke after His resurrection. The words he spoke when they were afraid and hiding, after His resurrection.)

While I did not mention Jesus specifically in a secular and mixed setting, I asked them if they could do what St. Francis prayed for: “Can you be an instrument of peace?” I was clear I didn’t mean just when they sing this piece. I told them I didn’t just mean for the concert. But can you be an instrument of peace when you return home to your friends, school, family, and those who care about you? Can you be an instrument of peace…for the rest of your lives?

I asked this of children, because they can carry this out much better than adults can—at least speaking for myself.

I put the words “Peace be with you” into their mouths because I know that coming from children, it is genuine. It is divine love. This is what children singing can do. Children have much to teach us, and I have much to learn from them.

The morning of the concert, Malvar-Ruiz repeated my request to be messengers of peace. They truly responded with their music. I trust they will respond further with their lives. As they do, so will the world change and be saved.

IN ADDITION, here are a few of my choral/liturgical works for Lent and Easter. You can listen to recordings of each or these:

Communion Antiphons for Lent | SATB, Organ, Assembly • World Library Publications

Christe qui lux es et dies | Based on Compline Hymn for Lent, SATB • RJC Cecilia Music

Lumen Christi | Paschal Candle Procession | Deacon/Priest, Assembly, SATB • CanticaNOVA Publications

O Sacrum Convivium | TTB or SSA • includes optional text for tempore quadragesimæ • RJC Cecilia Music

I Am Risen, Resurrexi | Introit for Easter Sunday, SATB, organ • RJC Cecilia Music

Podcast • Communion Antiphons for Advent on “Sounds from the Spires”

THE COLLECTION of Communion Antiphons for Advent was recently featured on “Sounds from the Spires” on SIRIUS XM 129 Radio, The Catholic Channel.

I had the opportunity to speak with the program’s host, Dr. Jennifer Pascual, Director of Music for Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

We discussed the antiphons/propers of the Mass as well as the composition process of this new collection of propers. Why is it important to sing the propers? What scriptures do we sing during Advent? This is the kind of thing I find exciting.

• PODCAST • Listen here to the program broadcast on 12.13.2015:

You can listen to the music on this program here:

Communion Antiphons for Lent

AM PLEASED to announce the release of my Communion Antiphons for Lent with World Library Publications.

These thirteen antiphons are set from the English translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition. All the verses set are those prescribed by Graduale Romanum.

Scores are available in hard copies or digital format:

Order • View sample pages:
Octavo • “Communion Antiphons for Lent” (for SATB Choir; Cantor; Assembly)

“Click & Print” • PDF Download:
PDF • “Communion Antiphons for Lent” (for SATB Choir; Cantor; Assembly)

All are chant based.
Can be sung with cantor or unison schola
Ample opportunity for optional SATB

HERE YOU CAN LISTEN to recordings of seven of the thirteen communion propers directed by Paul French. French and his singers beautifully captured the joy, movement, and energy of these chant based works.


Hard copies and downloadable digital scores of the Communion Antiphons for Advent, published with World Library Publications.

You can listen to recordings directed by Paul French here.

Soli Deo gloria

Thank a Church Musician Today! | St. Cecilia Day Variations

THANK A CHURCH MUSICIAN TODAY! Thank your choir! Church musicians put in long hours away from family, missing weekends and evenings. They don’t get paid much money even when at the highest levels of their profession and art. But making music for God is in their blood. They know no other way to live!

St. Cecilia“Playing the organ, Cecilia chanted to the Lord, saying: Let my heart be made spotless, so that I may not be confounded.” – Vespers Antiphon for the Feast of St. Cecilia, November 22

 VIEW SAMPLE SCORE: St. Cecilia Day Variations

    • ($19.00) Digital PDF copy comes with reprint license limited to use for one performer. You do not have permission to disseminate the score. Upon purchase, you will receive an email from which you can download the score.

  • Recording by Richard J. Clark on the 1999 Smith & Gilbert Organ, St. Cecilia Church, Boston, MA with St. Cecilia Men’s Schola:


    Hard copies and downloadable digital scores of the Communion Antiphons for Advent, published with World Library Publications.

    You can listen to recordings directed by Paul French here.